How To Obsess Over Customers Like Jeff Bezos

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By Blake Thorne

obsess over customers like Jeff Bezos
What external metric is your company most proud of? Facebook likes? SEO ranking?

For Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, it just might be this: each year, the company is ranked at the top of its category and often top overall on a national index measuring customer satisfaction among America’s largest companies.

Sounds a little dry, a little technical. But it reflects Amazon’s mission in the strongest way possible.

Bezos is famously customer-focused. “Obsess over customers,” he has said. While some companies chose to obsess over competition (or default to obsessing over competition because it feels right) Bezos has consistently chose to push Amazon to obsess over the customer.

It’s an approach that has sometimes made competitors — and even employees — feel like they’re in the back seat.

And it’s an approach full of lessons for businesses that want to be customer-focused, but don’t know quite what to do beyond answering customer questions and responding to support tickets quickly.

Because great customer support, as Amazon and Bezos have shown us, goes far beyond troubleshooting.

Give customers a seat at the table

Customer service is baked into Amazon’s mission statement. It’s in the opening words: “We seek to be Earth’s most customer-centric company …”

You don’t become the world’s most customer-centric company by thinking of customer problems after the fact. Many companies, unfortunately, only start considering customer problems when the customer calls and says “hey, I have a problem.”

Not the case at Amazon.

In early meetings, Bezos famously left an empty seat at the table to represent what he called “the most important person in the room.” Over time, special customer ambassador roles at Amazon became used to fill this seat, tasked with thinking like a customer about the concepts being discussed.

But like any good host knows, you don’t just offer your guests a seat. You put out some food and beverage. Or as Bezos puts it: an-all-you-can-eat buffet.

You might know it as Amazon Prime.

“It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet, $79, that gives you free two-day shipping on everything you buy for a year,” Bezos has said. “When you do the math on that, it always tells you not to do it.”

He means that the number-crunching might not support the business offering such a generous serving. But Amazon also considers Prime a marketing expense. Because when you offer great hospitality, people come back for more.

obsess over customers like Jeff Bezos

Understand the power of what customers are telling you

A lot of businesses have a pretty binary approach to customer feedback. Are there enough customers or not enough? Are the customers happy or not happy?

At Amazon, customers are treated as “precious sources of information.”

Or as Brad Stone — author of “The Everything Store” — reported in this anecdote from Jeff Wilke, a senior VP at Amazon:

“Every anecdote from a customer matters,” Wilke replied. “We research each of them because they tell us something about our processes. It’s an audit that is done for us by our customers. We treat them as precious sources of information.”

At Amazon, customer complaints are collected and synthesized into what’s called a WOCAS report, for “what our customers are saying.”

The impact from these reports results in getting feedback from the front lines, the customer support agents, back to the middle managers and the executive suite. So the next time those managers are making high-level decisions, there will be no guessing about how the customers feel, they’ll have the data right there.

Sweat the details to obsess over customers

In December 2007, Joe Nocera returned home one day to learn that the package he was expecting from Amazon had been stolen from his porch. Turns out a neighbor signed for the package and left it outside, not knowing there were expensive electronics inside.

Nocera’s heart sunk when he realized that some thief had made off with his son’s Christmas present.

He called Amazon — not only did Amazon send him a new Playstation 3, they rushed the shipping for free so it could be under the tree by Christmas eve.

They didn’t even know who Nocera was. Turns out he writes for a pretty important newspaper.

“My son was very happy. So, of course, was I,” Nocera wrote in the New York Times.

Amazon sweats the details for moments like this this. Their customer service in this case bought them untold dollars in new business that a multimillion dollar advertising campaign would be envious of. And they got it all for the price of a Playstation and some shipping.

Details matter to Bezos, who famously has a public email address where customers can reach him. Really: jeff@amazon.com.

And thousands of Amazon managers, including Bezos himself, attend call center training each year.

Even Amazon’s logo reflects the customers happiness: An arrow shaped like a smile.

It’s the details that help Bezos serve the customers. And the little things that keep people coming back.

Or as Nocera put it:

“Why would I ever shop anywhere else online?”

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